Custom Computer Parts List For Windows 7 PC

I just built a PC that I wanted to be small-ish, quiet, powerful enough to play the latest games, and reasonably priced. While one can spend many hundreds more and eek out a bit more performance, the additional gains will be minimal. This setup plays current games, including my favorite Starcraft 2, like a champ and costs under $1370 as of this writing:

Parts List

Samsung XL-2370-1 23-Inch Widescreen LED LCD Monitor $310

Intel Core i3 CPU i3-530 2.93GHz $114

MSI N460GTX Cyclone768D5/OC 768 MB Overclocked Graphics Card $185

Corsair CMPSU-450VX 450-Watt Power Supply $70

Corsair 4GB DDR3 RAM $94

SilverStone MicroATX Midsize Tower Case TJ08B $95

OCZ 60 GB Vertex 2 Solid State Drive (SSD) $150

Gigabyte GA-H57M-USB3 Motherboard $120

Lite-On 24X SATA DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Drive $25

SIIG USB Mini Keyboard $22

Logitech Wireless Performance Mouse MX $80

Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit System Builder $100

Netbooks versus Notebooks

Dell Mini 9 NetbookMany DC area clients have asked me whether they should buy a netbook or a full notebook.

Netbooks (small laptops) have become very popular. We have written several articles about them. They started with the Acer Eee PC, followed by the Aspire Aspire One, then proliferating to dozens of models from suppliers including Dell and HP.


Netbooks are typically cheaper, having started out at the $299 price point. Old models can be found for less and new models are now over $500.

This is a decent price for a computer, but keep in mind that 1) the netbook does not have a CD/DVD drive and 2) there are often online deals from sites such as Newegg that will provide a full size laptop for the same price. Dell also has online deals and stackable coupons periodically which you can find out about at Slickdeals.


If you are looking for the smallest laptop possible, then you want a netbook. Be sure to try one though, because typing on a smaller keyboard and using a smaller screen make using a netbook less practical for longer stretches of work. DC area residents can go to Microcenter in Fairfax, Virginia to type on and test lots of netbooks and notebooks.


Netbooks are typically much slower, using Atom CPUs. A new line of Atoms, combined with the NVIDIA Ion platform, will allow full HD video decoding, so these laptops are getting faster. Still, one of the reasons that these laptops are cheaper is that they are slower. This is fine if you are typically just browsing the web and writing email. But if you need to use a few programs at once or work in more complex programs, the netbooks will feel a little slower.

Operating Systems

Netbooks typically come with Windows XP or a version of Linux, which is free and cuts down the cost. Linux is a great operating system that I use regularly. However, if you have regular software such as Word and Excel that you want to use, you will find it difficult to load that software on a Linux computer. There are good open source alternatives such as Open Office if you are okay using something that is similar to Office.


Laptops are a very personal purchase, depending on your preference on keyboard, mouse, and screen size. While I use netbooks for low-weight traveling, I would not use them to replace a laptop for extended use.

Best Instant Messengers

There are many instant messaging options for communicating with your friends and colleagues. In order for instant messengers to work together, they need to use the same protocol. To avoid interoperability issues, consider one of the messengers listed here that supports multiple systems.

Windows and Linux

Pidgin works with all the major IM systems: AIM, ICQ, Jabber/XMPP, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, IRC, Novell GroupWise Messenger, QQ, Lotus Sametime, SILC, SIMPLE, MySpaceIM, and Zephyr.

It is also highly customizable with lots of plugins. lists their ten favorite plug-ins.

Mac OS X

By default, the Mac comes with iChat which is the best videoconferencing solution for Mac. Unfortunately, iChat only works with Macs.  It uses a Jabber transport and connects with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), .Mac, ICQ and XMPP.

For instant messaging and more interoperability on the Mac, Adium is similar to Pidgin and works with all the major IM protocols.

IM + Video + Calling Land Lines

If you also want videoconferencing, Skype is the most popular solution. It works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even some mobile devices like Windows Mobile PDAs and the Sony PSP (pictured). It also has the paid options of Skype Out (calling a phone) or Skype In (getting a phone number that rings your Skype account). On the downside, Skype is a proprietary protocol that only works with Skype.

Dell Reinstallation Disk Doesn’t Always Work

I recently performed a system reinstall for an Arlington, VA customer. His Dell Inspiron 1720 came with a Reinstallation DVD for Windows Vista Business 32Bit. This is not the same as an installation disk from Microsoft because it can only be installed on a particular computer.

But after Vista was reinstalled using the Reinstallation DVD, the computer would not fully boot. It just showed a mouse and a blank screen. Booting into Safe Mode showed that it was stuck on the crcdisk.sys file.

After researching, I determined that the problem was a common one. Apparently Dell does not include all the necessary SATA drivers in the Reinstallation DVD to allow a working reinstall. I had to go into the BIOS and change the SATA hard drive to use ATA instead of AHCI. This isn’t the default setting.

So if your reinstall doesn’t work, you could need to add additional drivers or change BIOS settings.

Where to buy electronics

While Best Buy may be popular for electronics, they are rarely the best buy. Their staff is known to make up answers. Their online prices are not as good as other Internet stores. And their in-store prices are often higher than their online prices, despite what their in-store website shows. Their Geek Squad is poorly trained and could try to take a video of you taking a shower. So instead of driving to Best Buy, first look around online.

Amazon has decent prices, but is also just a good place to shop around for what you want. Between Amazon and Amazon’s third party sellers, their selection is huge and their reviews can help you figure out what is best for you.

Newegg has long been a favorite electronics seller because of their great prices. They are usually one of the first places I visit. They sell lots of electronics, computers, computer parts, accessories, and software.

Cables, such as HDMI cables for HD TVs, are a huge rip-off in most retail stores. Best Buy and Circuit City will charge $40-$100 for a cable that is no better than a $5 cable from MonoPrice. MonoPrice’s cables are so cheap that you might suspect that they’re selling stolen goods. But MonoPrice has been around since 2002 selling quality cables and parts for their real price.

Although their site is not as attractive as MonoPrice’s, Blue Jeans Cable also offers a good deal on cables, especially if you need something special that is custom made.

While their prices aren’t the most competitive, Crutchfield offers a comprehensive site for home theater equipment. Their phone sales people are also knowledgeable.

There are times when you need a real physical store. For example, laptops have different “feels” and are good to play with before purchasing. Luckily, in the D.C. area, we have a great store for electronics.

Micro Center, with 21 stores nationwide, has a store here in Fairfax, Virginia. They have good prices and a wide selection of computer equipment and software. They have a television section for large LCDs and Plasmas. Unique today, they have a section just for selling Apple products. Micro Center is great for geeks too because they sell everything you need to build a computer from the ground up. MicroCenter also has a bookstore and a game section for PC and console gaming.

Micro Center‘s employees are generally quite knowledgeable, especially compared to those at Best Buy. They make money on sales commissions by putting a sticker on items that they help you to find. On checkout, those stickers are scanned for comissions.

If you’re shopping specifically for an Apple product or accessory, Apple’s retail stores are great and have an intelligent staff. Since Apple keeps prices the same everywhere, you won’t feel ripped off shopping there. There are only a few ways to get prices slightly better than the standard list price from Apple. You can get an Educational or Government discount from Apple. Or you can go to a third-party seller that might offer a small discount or combo package that Apple does not have. Amazon is the best of the third-party sellers now. They offer $100-$150 off of most current iMacs.

Although Best Buy is ubiquotus, there are many better alternatives. Give some of these other electronics stores a try.